on James 4 :1
From whence come wars and fightings - About the time in which St. James wrote, whether we follow the earlier or the later date of this epistle, we find, according to the accounts given by Josephus, Bell. Jud. lib. ii. c. 17, etc., that the Jews, under pretense of defending their religion, and procuring that liberty to which they believed themselves entitled, made various insurrections in Judea against the Romans, which occasioned much bloodshed and misery to their nation. The factions also, into which the Jews were split, had violent contentions among themselves, in which they massacred and plundered each other. In the provinces, likewise, the Jews became very turbulent; particularly in Alexandria, and different other parts of Egypt, of Syria, and other places, where they made war against the heathens, killing many, and being massacred in their turn. They were led to these outrages by the opinion that they were bound by their law to extirpate idolatry, and to kill all those who would not become proselytes to Judaism. These are probably the wars and fightings to which St. James alludes; and which they undertook rather from a principle of covetousness than from any sincere desire to convert the heathen. See Macknight.
Come they not hence - of your lusts - This was the principle from which these Jewish contentions and predatory wars proceeded, and the principle from which all the wars that have afflicted and desolated the world have proceeded. One nation or king covets another's territory or property; and, as conquest is supposed to give right to all the possessions gained by it, they kill, slay, burn, and destroy, till one is overcome or exhausted, and then the other makes his own terms; or, several neighboring potentates fall upon one that is weak; and, after murdering one half of the people, partition among themselves the fallen king's territory; just as the Austrians, Prussians, and Russians have done with the kingdom of Poland! - a stain upon their justice and policy which no lapse of time can ever wash out.
These wars and fightings could not be attributed to the Christians in that time; for, howsoever fallen or degenerate, they had no power to raise contentions; and no political consequence to enable them to resist their enemies by the edge of the sword, or resistance of any kind.
on James 4 :1
From whence come wars and fightings among you? - Margin, "brawlings." The reference is to strifes and contentions of all kinds; and the question, then, as it is now, was an important one, what was their source or origin? The answer is given in the succeeding part of the verse. Some have supposed that the apostle refers here to the contests and seditions existing among the Jews, which afterwards broke out in rebellion against the Roman authority, and which led to the overthrow of the Jewish nation. But the more probable reference is to domestic broils, and to the strifes of sects and parties; to the disputes which were carried on among the Jewish people, and which perhaps led to scenes of violence, and to popular outbreaks among themselves. When the apostle says "among you," it is not necessary to suppose that he refers to those who were members of the Christian church as actually engaged in these strifes, though he was writing to such; but he speaks of them as a part of the Jewish people, and refers to the contentions which prevailed among them as a people - contentions in which those who were Christian converts were in great danger of participating, by being drawn into their controversies, and partaking of the spirit of strife which existed among their countrymen. It is known that such a spirit of contention prevailed among the Jews at that time in an eminent degree, and it was well to put those among them who professed to be Christians on their guard against such a spirit, by stating the causes of all wars and contentions. The solution which the apostle has given of the causes of the strifes prevailing then, will apply substantially to all the wars which have ever existed on the earth.
Come they not hence, even of your lusts? - Is not this the true source of all war and contention? The word rendered "lusts" is in the margin rendered "pleasures." This is the usual meaning of the word (ἡδονὴ hēdonē); but it is commonly applied to the pleasures of sense, and thence denotes desire, appetite, lust. It may be applied to any desire of sensual gratification, and then to the indulgence of any corrupt propensity of the mind. The lust or desire of rapine, of plunder, of ambition, of fame, of a more extended dominion, I would be properly embraced in the meaning of the word. The word would equally comprehend the spirit which leads to a brawl in the street, and that which prompted to the conquests of Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon. All this is the same spirit evinced on a larger or smaller scale.
That war in your members - The word "member" (μέλος melos) denotes, properly, a limb or member of the body; but it is used in the New Testament to denote the members of the body collectively; that is, the body itself as the seat of the desires and passions, Romans 6:13, Romans 6:19; Romans 7:5, Romans 7:23; Colossians 3:5. The word war here refers to the conflict between those passions which have their seat in the flesh, and the better principles of the mind and conscience, producing a state of agitation and conflict. See the notes at Romans 7:23. Compare Galatians 5:17. Those corrupt passions which have their seat in the flesh, the apostle says are the causes of war. Most of the wars which have occurred in the world can be traced to what the apostle here calls lusts. The desire of booty, the love of conquest, the ambition for extended rule, the gratification of revenge, these and similar causes have led to all the wars that have desolated the earth. Justice, equity, the fear of God, the spirit of true religion, never originated any war, but the corrupt passions of men have made the earth one great battle-field. If true religion existed among all men, there would be no more war. War always supposes that wrong has been done on one side or the other, and that one party or the other, or both, is indisposed to do right. The spirit of justice, equity, and truth, which the religion of Christ would implant in the human heart, would put an end to war forever.
on James 4 :1
4:1 From whence come wars and fightings - Quarrels and wars among you, quite opposite to this peace? Is it not from your pleasures - Your desires of earthly pleasures. Which war - Against your souls. In your members - Here is the first seat of the war. Hence proceeds the war of man with man, king with king, nation with nation.